Nature vs. Nurture

I spend a lot of time thinking about, and actively pursing, ways to better enable community around software projects.  My motivation is to work with people vs on certain technology.  I'm blessed to be involved with quite a few thriving communities, and I wanted to say something about community based on my experience in them.

Joel Spolsky was writing about the need for Stack Exchange to hire more community managers in the form of super-evangelists:

Our goal as a company is to incubate each of these 51 communities—to get them to critical mass. Critical mass is that magic moment when the community has enough activity that it grows by itself.

Building communities on the Internet is a new kind of profession. There are an awful lot of technology companies, founded by programmers, who think they are building communities on the Internet, but they’re really just building software and wondering why the community doesn’t magically show up.
People have to take an active role in building and fostering community and participation.  Knowing how to do it effectively is hard, because as Joel points out, an algorithmic approach won't work.  Communities are made-up of people, and because people are so different from one another, what works in one community won't work in another.

Much of my work for the past year has been focused on extending the Mozilla community out into the larger web community.  I firmly believe that the way to grow Mozilla is to leverage the incredible energy and talent of the web development community, to show them how their work can and does influence the web itself, and how it can affect projects as large and important as Firefox.  To that end, we've focused on projects like the Audio Data API, Processing.js, Popcorn.js, CubicVR.js and the demo scene.

Yesterday we released version 1.2 of Processing.js, a large release on a project that keeps getting bigger.  I love working in that community, not only because it's such an exciting technology, but also because of the people.  The same goes for the Popcorn.js and Web Made Movies community.  We had a planning call yesterday for Popcorn 0.7, and it included participants from Toronto, Boston, Milan, Vancouver, and New York.  That community and technology is really starting to gel, too, and it's exciting.

In addition to patches, I put a lot of effort into keeping the people side of these projects healthy.  Keeping growing communities going in the right direction, helping them expand, making them interesting and creative places where people want to spend their time and use their talents--these are not things that just happen.  You have to invest in them.

I think an important aspect of this, one that is so obvious it gets overlooked, is the need for encouragement.  The people I work with on these projects are amazing, and some of the most talented software people I've met.  People need to hear that, need to know that their contribution is appreciated, that they are appreciated.

For the most part, there aren't automatic ways to do this.  Yesterday github announced the new Block User button:

GitHub has always been about collaboration: we want to make it easy for you to work with other people to build great software. Whether that's a co-worker sitting next to you or a stranger across the globe, it doesn't matter. Collaboration should be easy and fun.

Unfortunately, there will always be people whose idea of fun is bullying others. That's why today we are rolling out a feature designed to help you control the people you interact with on GitHub.
Wouldn't it be great if there was a "+1 this User" button?  It's still possible to do this, but you have to do it manually.  Luckily, it's easy to DM someone on Twitter, send an email, drop some love in irc, write a blog post about someone else's work, etc.  "Building communities on the Internet" is more than just a profession, it's the responsibility of every member of those communities.

As someone who tries to be intentional about this, let me encourage you to go encourage someone in your immediate community today.  We know those people are capable of good work, so it's easy to not say anything when they deliver it again and again.  I promise you that no one will think it odd when you send them a note of gratitude, encouragement, and love.

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